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Feb. 23rd, 2008

rco-2
papersky said something very good here which I wanted to address, and while I started a rant in her LJ, I realized that it was going to be a rant, so I moved back to here.

Why do nebulous people feel that just anyone can get on-line and start blogging their way into the public awareness (and one assumes the higher sales that come with higher profile)? No, really. Why? Because just anyone can get on-line?

This is one of those things that just makes me crazy. And cranky.

People point to Scalzi or Cory as a proof of concept... and you know? Maybe it is. So let's just look at the concept.

I've been reading The Whatever since roughly 1995; he's been writing and posting there since, according to the site, 1993. His first novel was published in, let me check, 2004. Yes, I know he wrote Agent to the Stars before that. But it's not a book that one could reasonably expect could be blogged to fame and fortune, given that the readers of the Whatever could not go hunt it down in bookstores and pay for it.

Or, to put it another way, no one was nagging him to get out there and promote Agent to the Stars.

Scalzi was talking about his first novel sale on The Whatever when he made it, which would obviously have been before 2004, but it certainly wouldn't have been in, say, 1993. Or 1995, which is when I started lurking. Mostly, he wrote a funny blog – well, if you like his style of ranting or humour, and I do – about whatever he happened to feel like writing about at the time. It wasn't always daily, to start, but I really liked it, and I did return to it, reading a bunch all at once if I'd fallen off-line, as I sometimes do.

I am not the only person who found him funny; I am not the only person who found his blog. And 'lo these many years later his blog is its own community with a lot of daily unique hits. Over the years, we've gotten to "know" him; we've seen him get things right, and wrong, and we've seen him take it on the chin when he's wrong. He moderates his comment threads with a very light hand, he responds to various comments or questions; he can be intemperate, but is almost always fair – for a value of fair that is often a touch sarcastic. Those people who post frequently are known by him, and are known by each other. I mostly lurk, so I'm far less visible.

So when Scalzi's first novel came out, he had an entire community full of people who were willing to give the book a try. This happens in real life as well – your co-workers, your cousins, aunts and uncles, and all your friends, are both curious and willing to buy-in to at least one-time support. It's just that in Scalzi's case, his "friends" were among the 20k or so unique hits a day his site now gets.

I have nothing against using Scalzi as an example of a person who leverages his blog to bump sales, I really don't. But I take exception to the people who don't understand that if you want to build Scalzi's blog, you need to spend 10 years amusing, outraging, and moderating people, for free, and because it clearly amuses you, and you must do this before you have something to sell. But if you have a spare 10 years, you too can achieve this.



ETA: "Michelle gets the date of the beginning of Whatever wrong — it came online in 1998. But it’s true I had a Web site of one form or another dating all the way back to ‘93, and that I regularly put new content on it during that time."

Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
estara
Feb. 23rd, 2008 09:35 am (UTC)
I guess you could also already have notoriety of some sort and then translate it into being a successful blogger (being regular and interesting, funny etc.) like Wil Wheaton: we already knew him as a kid from STNG and so reading his blog and then reading his books makes sense.

Now Neil Gaiman was already a famous writer before he had a blog (at least the Sandman novels ought to be older than the blog) and recently I read that he is feeling that in the ten years he's been doing the blog he's said everything he wanted to say and might stop: it's interesting to note that one of his publishers runs the backstage machinery for him and he just blogs.

All of the successful writer blogs (or any blogs) must first be interesting, before enough readers are there to make a difference in purchasing new books. That means the writer has to enjoy blogging. If they only do it for a special book promotion it falls asleep very soon.

I've realised that I only want to blog occasionally myself (I'm not a writer at all), what I really want to do is comment when a post interests or amuses me.

All this to say: I agree with you.
ckd
Feb. 23rd, 2008 05:13 pm (UTC)
Run the clock back farther, to the 1980s.

Neither Steven Brust nor Lawrence Watt-Evans was posting to the FidoNET SF echo to sell books. They were there because it was a nice online place to hang out and talk SF with like-minded folks, some (but not all) of whom were other authors.

They wrote interestingly enough for me to check out their books. Not a direct sales bump, since there's this thing called a "library"...but I liked what I read, and bought a few, and on from there.

As you say, the goal of the blog/online presence can't be to sell books, because that won't work; the goal has to be the online presence for its own sake, and maybe there will be books sold.
difrancis
Feb. 23rd, 2008 05:35 pm (UTC)
It is sort of like using Christopher Paolini as an example of someone who self published and then made it big with a major book contract and then movies. Yep, it happened. But it's sort of like winning the lottery.

And you're right. People who blog to sell books mostly blog about selling books and it ain't interesting. My publicist at Roc wanted me to start a blog and etc, and I eventually did, but mostly because I was, ahem, technologically behind the times and came to it late and thought, wow! This is way cool! I'm in Montana in the middle of nowhere and I can hang out with friends while still in my office! I don't even have to worry about how I smell! But I don't think blogging has a great deal to do with how many books I sell (or don't, for that matter). But I do have fun. And I'm a Whatever watcher too. Cause he amuses me.

Hmmm. Seems to me I have edits due on Monday. Perhaps I should go back to doing those . . .

ETA: Oh, and should add that I've been watching your blog ages and it was really annoying when you when radio silent. Course getting more books on the shelves is a good trade off, so guess I'll keep the complaining to a minimum . . . But yours was one of the first blogs I started paying attention to because you were interesting and entertaining and that sort of thing.

Di

Edited at 2008-02-23 05:38 pm (UTC)
msagara
Feb. 24th, 2008 03:51 am (UTC)
And you're right. People who blog to sell books mostly blog about selling books and it ain't interesting.

Pretty much. I also sometimes think that people aren't all that interested in most parts of the writing life, etc., and I suffer from a certainty that what I have to say is not very interesting when it's not, you know, fiction, and some of the things which I think would be interesting, I don't feel are entirely mine (my children, for instance).

But yours was one of the first blogs I started paying attention to because you were interesting and entertaining and that sort of thing.

o.o

Well, thank you for that :)
nagasvoice
Feb. 24th, 2008 05:10 am (UTC)
There's also the issue of being aware that you are trying to become a pubic presence.
As you say, some topics aren't entirely your own any more. You have a responsibility to the people around you. I like how Neil Gaiman talks about his family. He's not secretive, but he's also careful about the details of what he shares, without losing the lightness.
I've become more aware, coming through various lj hysterias over the last year or so, that what I say in a public space is, erm, public. Not the place to share TMI about your rooomates. (Not even most disgusting habits of your cats.)
Partly, this is because if you're online whining in a typically lj sort of way about somebody in your personal life, and you're being read by Scalzi's level, you have no idea where it might end up. Or where it might eventually end up getting quoted.

We've been warned by our union reps that all this stuff can end up in the hot little hands of nosy employers, for instance, with the excuse that it's for the sake of "security". Or it can get poked into by Xtian teenagers trying to shut down people who have politics that their parents don't agree with, by reporting their lj for pr0n.
Or in the hands of Homeland Security, if somebody is really cross.

Now there's a thought to inspire light witty repartee, I must say.

In my own case, I've more or less decided that hey, if they want a look, take a look! Maybe I'll broaden some minds!
So it's going to be something I'd be willing to tell them to their face, if they asked.
I don't proimse to be nice about it if I'm asked, though.

(Anonymous)
Feb. 25th, 2008 05:03 am (UTC)
There's also the issue of being aware that you are trying to become a pubic presence.

No, that's a different sort of blog.

(Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

El
nagasvoice
Feb. 25th, 2008 06:16 am (UTC)
Arrggh! This is why I want comment editing, my typos slay me!
Ahem.
You're quire right, that is quite a different sort of...medium.
dsgood
Feb. 23rd, 2008 05:52 pm (UTC)
Another factor: There are writers whose fiction I enjoy reading -- but whose online words I find boring and/or distasteful.
msagara
Feb. 24th, 2008 09:05 pm (UTC)
Another factor: There are writers whose fiction I enjoy reading -- but whose online words I find boring and/or distasteful.

I've had that happen as well -- we probably all have. Out of curiosity, does it affect the way you feel about their fiction?
arachnejericho
Feb. 25th, 2008 06:52 am (UTC)
I keep buying the fiction and stop reading the blog. One type of writing is different enough to the other that to me it's just that they suck at one and not at the other.
norilana
Feb. 23rd, 2008 10:32 pm (UTC)
An excellent point. Blogging and maintaining a sufficiently interesting online presence is such hard work that it should by all fairness be considered a real job -- part time or in some cases full time.
msagara
Feb. 24th, 2008 09:09 pm (UTC)
An excellent point. Blogging and maintaining a sufficiently interesting online presence is such hard work that it should by all fairness be considered a real job -- part time or in some cases full time.

Yes -- or a hobby, which is something you do for fun, but something you don't expect to make money doing. I think if you looked at it as a job, it might be easier -- but while writing novels and meeting deadlines, you've already got one. Imho.

I don't know -- I just resent the stress it places on writers whose work I admire.
arachnejericho
Feb. 25th, 2008 06:57 am (UTC)
Blogging for profit is a full-time job. Often, in the beginning, done in conjunction with a second full-time job, or multiple part-time jobs, because it takes years to build the audience---when I look at just the blogging side, at the big blogs like doshdosh, ProBlogger, Skelliewag---those all took years to build, just like Whatever or BoingBoing.

It's kind of like writing fiction in that sense. :)

Doing both at the same time is indeed insane, especially if you're still in the building stage, because that means you have at least one paying daytime job(s) that add up to a full-time job, and two non-paying full-time jobs on the wayside.

I blog seriously and have a full-time, hard day job. I literally have no free time, and I still write fiction (a little bit) on the side. But it makes me happy, because this is what I like doing.

If you ain't blogging for the love of it, it's not going to turn out well.
sphericaltime
Feb. 26th, 2008 08:04 pm (UTC)
I have to agree with you. I was lucky enough to spend a week around Cory Doctorow, and he spent the vast majority of his time keeping up his blog, and I got the impression that much of the rest was mostly about his family and writing.

But he also made this same point in person when asked about how to build a web following, and his response was along the line of "Well, we were there first. You aren't going to be."
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